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The Fighting Lady: The New Yorktown In The Pacific War

April 2024
1min read

by Clark G. Reynolds; Pictorial Histories Publishing Company; 355 pages; paperback; $14.95.

Probably no American ship since the frigate Constitution has gotten as much press as the USS Yorktown : Edward Steichen took his famous photographs of World War II carrier operations on her flight deck, she was the subject of any number of articles, and while the war was still going on she played herself in Twentieth Century-Fox’s technicolor epic Wing and a Prayer . Her fame may have infected the pilots and crew, for the vessel seems to have generated more than the usual number of diaries—the keeping of which was forbidden throughout the war. Years later, after chatting with her officer Cooper Bright, a non-carrier Navy man said, “It’s been a wonderful thing to meet you here in the Navy, Coop—to learn that I really didn’t participate in the Navy in World War II at all, that anybody of importance was only on the Yorktown .… No-one else counted. The Yorktown won the whole war by itself.”

Maybe not, but this big, fascinating book makes a pretty good case for the ship’s being emblematic of every carrier man’s experience in the Pacific war. Clark Reynolds has gathered an immense amount of material ranging from those diaries to caricatures of officers drawn by the men and has assembled it into a day-to-day record of life aboard ship during the career that carried the Yorktown from Norfolk Navy Yard to Tokyo Bay. There is plenty of action here—including an energetic eyewitness account of a Japanese torpedo run by American Hertage’s founder Oliver Jensen—but there are also the myriad other things that make up life in the crowded, busy city that is a modern carrier. As memorable as the pilots’ triumphant day’s work in the Philippine Sea are the scathing skits written by the officers about the showy Adm. Bull Halsey after he put the Yorktown into a typhoon and the bogus Pacific Fleet directive that was circulated through the vessel at war’s end requiring all personnel to “undergo an indoctrination course” before reentering civilian life. One of its many pointers read: “In America there is a remarkable number of beautiful girls … and many are gainfully employed as stenographers, sales girls and beauty operators or welders. Contrary to current practices, they should not be approached with ‘How much?’”

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